The stock market crash of 1929 brought the Roaring Twenties to a roaring halt, and America loomed on the verge of economic disaster. America needed to be healed. With the presidential election of 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt [FDR] looked to be the one who could do it. When Roosevelt took office in 1933, there were fifteen million whites and three million blacks unemployed. With urgings from his wife Eleanor, FDR devised a plan that became known as the “New Deal.”
The plan created programs of relief. recovery, and reforms for all Americans, including blacks. Impelled by the need to reduce widespread hardships and discontentment, liberal leaders advocated more vigorous federal safeguards for all citizens, regardless of background. This liberal reform provided blacks with a crucial vehicle to advance their civil-rights. The inclusion of blacks in the federal assistance programs, helped to bond the ties between blacks and liberals. Because of this, fifty thousand black farmers received government loans, and the average income of blacks doubled.
The “New Deal” Provided Equality for Workers, Including Blacks
One of the most significant New Deal measures that affected blacks, was the Wagner Labor Relations act of 1935. This act strengthened organized labor by guaranteeing the right to bargain collectively while outlawing company unions. The Committee for Industrial Organization (C.I.O.) was founded on the premise that unions should organize along industrial rather than craft lines.
It supported unskilled labor and followed a policy of equality for all workers, white as well as black. Because the majority of unskilled labor was black, the dominance of the C.I.O. union gave black people clout in the workplace. To show their support for the liberal, Democratic president, FDR (Franklin D. Roosevelt), record numbers of blacks voted for him in the 1936 election.
America Enters World War II to Fight for the Freedom of Others, but not Black Americans
Once the Japanese bombed pearl harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States entered World War II. America’s entry into the war brought it face-to-face with its own hypocrisy in the way it was treating some of its own citizens, namely blacks. How could America fight for the rights and freedoms of others when it practiced racism?
This sentiment was echoed by one young Army Air Corpsman named George Lusbure. Two weeks before he was to go into battle on Iwo Jima, he penned this passage in his diary: “Why do we fight? The answer is yet to come true, so we can have a decent home for our parents and our children(s) to live in or will this last forever. I wish I knew – Will I have to fight to keep my freedom after I get out, the answer to that question yet lies ahead, unanswered to mankind.” Certainly, similar sentiments were shared by many African American G.I.s.
The summer of 1943 marked the worst series of race riots since the “Red Summer” of 1919. The states of Alabama, Texas, Michigan, and New York all experienced deadly rioting due to segregation. The United States military was also still segregated, thus black soldiers had to fight in separate units. As more blacks were inducted into the military, black leaders increased their campaigns to abolish segregation in all facets of the military.
Jim Crow Laws Threatened to Rip Apart the United States
Asa Philip Randolph devised a mass demonstration against Jim Crow laws and threatened a march on Washington. Roosevelt, fearing an embarrassing large-scale demonstration in the nation’s capital, came up with a decision. On June 25, 1941, he issued executive order 8802, which reaffirmed the government’s policy of non-discrimination. In addition, a committee on Fair Employment Practice was established to investigate violations of 8802.
With the increase of black soldiers, came the need for the increase of black officers. The military now allowed for the training of black and white officers in the same schools, and by 1942, over one-thousand blacks had graduated from officer training school. One of the more famous training schools was for pilot training, and was at the Tuskegee Institute. This institute graduated the 99th Pursuit Squadron, an all-black, flying ace squadron, which had the best record of any flying squadron during the war.
The black soldier excelled on land as well. A black transportation corps called the Red Ball Express, kept General Patten’s troops supplied, even though General Patten had a tendency to outdistance his supply lines.
Truman Becomes President and Creates the President’s Committee on Civil Rights
With the death of President Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman was catapulted into the presidency. Truman, whose ideas and sympathies had beenthe same as those held by the South, demolished Southern expectations about him with the creation of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights on December 5, 1946. He was moved into action after a delegation called on him to protest the outrages against blacks.
An incident in Aiken, South Carolina, where a black sergeant, newly discharged from the army, had his eyes gouged out by the police, appalled Truman. Through this incident, President Truman decided that something must be done to put an end to civil unrest.
The President’s Committee on Civil Rights issued almost three dozen recommendations, including expanding the Civil-Rights section of the Justice Department, creating a permanent Commission on Civil Rights, enacting an anti-lynching statue, a law punishing public brutality, banning the poll tax, safeguarding the right to cast ballots, and outlawing discrimination in private employment. “Segregation was dealt a deadly blow by laws that denied federal money to any public or private program that persisted in Jim Crow practices.”
Truman insisted on a civil-rights plank to the Democratic platform, during his re-election campaign, caused the break up of the purely Democratic South. Two years into his second term, Truman began desegregating the armed services. Civil-Rights breakthroughs encouraged Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP’s special counsel, to promote an “all out” opposition to Plessey vs Ferguson, the separate but equal law known as Jim Crow.
Marshall argued that segregation was inherently unconstitutional, since it stigmatized an entire race, thereby denying it equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. An end to separate but equal finally came about when a decision on Brown vs the (Board of Education (Topeka, Kansas), was handed down by newly appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The unanimous decision was written by Warren stated that “if it was separate, then it was inherently unequal; therefore, it must be phased out.” Unfortunately, on May 31, 1955, the Supreme Court made another ruling that stated that separate but equal must be phased out, but at a rate left up to the discretion of each state.
The Southern States Resisted, and the Ku klux klan (KKK) Joined the Fight
The Southern states resisted and objected to the decision on Brown Vs the Board of Education. Blacks who tried to enroll their children into white schools were met with open hostilities from white parents and their children, the Ku klux klan (KKK), the White Citizen’s Counsels, and local vigilante committees. Riots and violent demonstrations were common place in the South at the start of the school year each September.
Such behavior outraged millions of Americans who did not live in the South, and so the Eisenhower administration was forced into action. The National Guard was federalized and sent in to hold off the angry mobs that surrounded the schools. Finally, under the protection of the guard, the black students were allowed to attend school.
Eisenhower’s hand had been forced by Southern extremism, and his actions unwittingly raised the expectations of blacks. This led to the enacting of the Civil-Rights act of 1957, which was the first civil-rights bill enacted since reconstruction. “The 1957 civil-rights act authorized the Justice Department to seek injunctions against interference with the right to vote and established a Commission on Civil Rights empowered to investigate, appraise, and report.”